Having worked hard for most of Sarah’s visit from the USA, we decided it was time for a spot of glamour and steered the trusty old Corolla towards Gordonton and the Zealong camellia plantation.
Zealong has an interesting history. To precis the story from the Zealong website – A lush camellia grew next to Tzu Chen’s Hamilton house. A lover of oolong tea, Mr Chen was struck by the similarities between tea plants and the camellia. From this he deduced that Hamilton would be the perfect environment to grow oolong tea. With his son, Vincent, Mr Chen imported 1500 tea seedlings from Taiwan in 1996. Only 130 made it to the plantation. Careful propagation, however, has resulted in over 50 hectares of tea plants. The tea is chemical-free and processed to the highest standard.
Kiwicommunicator was interested to hear the story when the tea house opened. Zealong has become one of her favourite destinations for impressing visitors to Hamilton. The plantation tour and tea-tasting is informative. Being more into indulgence than education on social occasions, when I take friends and family to Zealong it is to sample their high tea.
Since my first visit, the entry to Zealong has developed considerably, with the road to the parking area featuring sculptures of people producing tea and a display of different teapots and tea cups, all showing the delicate Zealong logo.
The autumn day was warm – perfect for sitting outside in the elegant setting overlooking the plantation.
The menu has changed since my last visit. Sarah and I chose the signature high tea, with more interesting offerings than before and more generous quantities of food. It was a filling lunch. We started with carrot soup and went on to enjoy delicacies such as a tiny beef wrap, a miniature fish cake, a sponge cake with tea-flavoured icing, macaron, rich chocolate square and panacotta with raspberry topping. Sarah’s favourite was the miniature salad of micro-greens and fine ribbons of noodle and carrot with a perfectly balanced dressing. Every morsel was a delight to the senses. We both decided Iggy would appreciate the ultra-rich chocolate square and took our piece home for him.
The grapes and cucumber wraps were deliciously refreshing. I also loved the baby kiwifruit garnish on the little sponge cakes.
Every time I have visited Zealong, the service has been quietly gracious. This visit was no exception. Our waitress explained the different oolong teas on offer and left us with a spoonful in each of our cups. A pot of water was kept hot on the brazier at our sides and we could top up our tea at our leisure. It was amazing to see the tiny dry leaves unfurl.
It’s fun to dress up for a special occasion such as this. Didn’t Sarah choose the perfect dress to complement the location?